Welcome to the five hundred and twenty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with debut literary novelist J.R. Crook. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, JR. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
JR: My name is Jamie Crook. I grew up in South Devon, but I’ve lived in London for the past ten years. As a child I always liked writing stories and as a teenager I was quite a serious reader, mainly of twentieth-century literature. When I was nineteen I moved to London to pursue an undergraduate degree, which fuelled my interest in writing my own fiction. After graduating in 2005, I set about slowly writing my debut novel, Sleeping Patterns. I spent six years writing it on and off, all the while trying to develop a style that not only felt natural to me, but that I could also call my own. In December 2011, I was fortunate enough to win the Luke Bitmead Writers’ Bursary for the novel and was published by Legend Press in the summer of 2012.
Morgen: It’s funny you say it’s taken you six years (on and off) to develop your style. I’ve been writing (on and off) for seven and feel I know what I’m doing (while still learning, of course). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
JR: I write literary fiction with a tendency toward the experimental side of things. No, I’ve never considered writing anything else, such as genre fiction or verse. I wouldn’t know how to anyway.
Morgen: I’m right there with you on verse. I write poetry very occasionally (usually for writing group homework) but don’t read it and have never been taught it so I stick with fiction, my comfort blanket… er, zone. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
JR: My debut novel, Sleeping Patterns, is my only published work to date. However, I’m currently busy working on my second novel, so that will hopefully change soon. I write under an abbreviation of my real name.
Morgen: Do let me know when your second book comes out. You could come back for an author spotlight. Is your book available as an eBook? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
JR: Yes, Sleeping Patterns is available as an eBook. As a traditionally published author, there was very little for me to be involved with – the digital text is the same as the one my editor and I had agreed on for the print version. As for my reading habits, I like the tangible qualities of printed books. I don’t read eBooks at present, but I don’t have any problem with them, providing the author’s original formatting isn’t corrupted or altered to adhere to the technology. In other words, so long as the author’s implicit meanings aren’t diluted in some way during the process of translating their words into hypertext. In general though, this is more of a problem for works with expired copyright, such as the classics, because anyone is free to digitise the text without paying the necessary attention to the original formatting intended by the author (and therefore potentially affecting its meaning). For dead authors with expired copyright, there is little anyone can do about this. But this is an ideological concern and the vast majority of people simply don’t care about something as seemingly inconsequential as formatting, so long as it’s convenient. It’s similar to how people will readily accept heavily-compressed music files, rather than make the effort to source lossless ones. Convenience trumps all, and aesthetics are always the first thing to go.
Morgen: I’d not thought of it like that but then I tend to listen to non-digital-radio-classical (i.e. pop, rock, dance) through iPod earphones so definitely lose a lot of ‘source’. As for books it’s great having the option of both (I have the Kindle app on my iPad) but nothing beats the feel and look of a printed book, especially one that has your name on it. What are you working on at the moment / next?
JR: My main project is my second novel, but I’ve recently also completed a short story that I’m pretty happy with. It was an experiment really, but it turned out to be quite influential on the new novel.
Morgen: Excellent. Do send me the link if you do anything with it. I welcome flash fiction for my Flash Fiction Fridays slot but can’t pay (because I don’t earn any money from this blog) so wouldn’t ask you to send me something that you could get paid for elsewhere. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
JR: Structure and form are massively import aspects of my writing. Whilst I do plan things carefully (and often quite meticulously – my notebook for Sleeping Patterns is probably four or five times the length of the actual novel), there always comes a time when you just have to run with it. Things start coming together once you actually start writing it. After that, everything begins to evolve on its own accord.
Morgen: Wow. That’s some notebook. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
JR: I write in a mixture of the first and third person, usually alternating back and forth between the two. In general, I don’t like reading books that are solely written in the first person. I have indeed written in the second person before (and recently too) and will probably do so again, providing it’s appropriate. One of my favourite books is Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and this, as I’m sure you are aware, is largely written in the second person. Now, how about the fourth person?
Morgen: I am, although I’ve not read it yet (because I’ve never found a copy, I should). I am part-way through his ‘Marcovaldo’ which is very good. And I have Jay McInerney’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ which is second person (again part-way through).
Fourth person? I had to Google that (and found Wikipedia’s take on it, as ‘one’) and also spotted someone had come up with a fifth person! Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
JR: Yes, of course. They never bothered me too much because I never had any expectations of ever being published. I simply wrote for myself and considered anything else as a bonus. I think that’s the only way of dealing with it, because after all, the odds are stacked so high against you anyway. Never underestimate the element of luck involved in getting published either. Published writers aren’t always ‘better’ writers; sometimes they’re simply just ‘luckier’ writers.
Morgen: “I simply wrote for myself” is the best way although having reader feedback is priceless. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
JR: I’m with an independent publisher, so I do have to do my fair share of self-promotion, but I don’t like doing too much of it. I’m not particularly comfortable with the idea of writers needing to be ‘brands,’ although I appreciate it’s an inevitable consequence of the current publishing climate. The idealist in me believes that the text should be allowed to stand on its own, wherever possible. For example, I have little or no idea what many of my favourite writers even look like, because it isn’t particularly important or interesting to me. In many ways, a work of literature lives independent of its author, it exists in the mind of the reader, so I find it somewhat strange when people consider the ‘author’ – rather than ‘the author’s work’ – as the ‘brand’.
Morgen: I’d like to think that a reader will enjoy a piece of writing so much that they remember who the author is, especially if they want to read other works by that author… a good case for having more than one piece available. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
JR: The one where you close your eyes, open a copy of Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, and put your finger somewhere on any page.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
JR: Poverty. But it will always be worthwhile poverty.
Morgen: Absolutely. I’ve rented out two bedrooms of my (three bedroom) house so I don’t have to have a day job and it’s totally worth it to me, plus my dog and I enjoy the company. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
JR: Either on my website (www.jrcrook.com) or on my publisher’s (www.legendpress.co.uk). I can also very occasionally be found on Twitter (www.twitter.com/jrcrookkk) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/jrcrookwriter).
Morgen: I’ve heard good things about Legend. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
JR: Thank you for having me.
Morgen: You’re so welcome. Thank you for joining me.
I then invited JR to provide a synopsis of his book…
Following the death of her narrator, Annelie Strandli, a character in the unfinished novel, Sleeping Patterns, revisits fragmented scenes in search of hidden meanings…
In a run-down student residence in South London, Annelie, a beautiful but confused designer, who is disorientated after leaving her native Finland, finds herself gravitating towards Berry Walker, an insomniac and aspiring writer.
Berry is often introspective and withdrawn, but in his writings Annelie sees the chance to glimpse him as he truly is. With the help of the narrator, she conspires to discover parts of a secret story that is concealed within his desk. As Annelie gradually puts the pieces together, she finds herself questioning not only her relationship to Berry, but ultimately the dividing line between fiction and memory.
Sleeping Patterns is a novel of intricate layers, hidden within each a tale of love, uncertain meanings, and the relationship between writer and reader.
J.R. Crook grew up in a small town in South Devon, before moving to London in 2002 to undertake a degree at The University of the Arts. In 2005, shortly after graduating, he moved into a series of bedsits in North London to begin writing what would eventually become his debut novel, Sleeping Patterns. The novel went on to win the Luke Bitmead Writers’ Bursary in December 2011 and was published the following summer. He is 29 and currently living in Ealing, London, where he is working on his second novel.
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